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Ex-Felons’ Voting Rights on Hold As Court Accepts DeSantis’ Appeal

Former felons in Florida who still owe fines and fees related to their imprisonment may not get to vote this year after all.

A federal court on Wednesday delayed a May 26 ruling by Judge Robert Hinkle that would have been one of the biggest expansions of voting rights in the state’s history, affecting up to 775,000 ex-felons.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta issued the stay after a majority of its judges accepted Gov. Ron DeSantis’s request for a full court review of Hinkle’s decision.

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit upheld Hinkle’s first ruling last October.

Back then, the case affected just the 17 plaintiffs in the lawsuit by the ACLU, Campaign Legal Center and other voting rights groups.

The court at that time also denied a request by DeSantis for the full court review.

The court has set a hearing date of Aug, 11, putting the affected felons past the the July 20 registration deadline for the Aug. 18 primary.

Meanwhile, the registration deadline for the November election is Oct. 5.

“Today’s decision is a setback,” said Paul Smith, vice president of the Campaign Legal Center.

He went on to say, “The district court’s decision to block Florida’s pay-to-vote system followed clear Supreme Court precedent. We are hopeful that the court of appeals will follow suit and confirm once and for all that wealth cannot determine a person’s eligibility to vote.”

Nearly 65 percent of Florida voters approved Amendment 4 in 2018, restoring voting rights to the state’s 1.4 million ex-felons.

Advocates for the amendment claimed it was self-implementing.

However, a law signed by DeSantis last year outlined requirements to pay back fines, fees and restitution as part of a felon’s sentence.

Hinkle’s ruling came from a lawsuit brought by voting rights groups that claimed the fines and fees requirement in the law were racially discriminatory, and that they are the equivalent of a “poll tax” banned by the U.S. Constitution.

Hinkle ultimately ruled the provision was unconstitutional because “the State of Florida has adopted a system under which nearly a million otherwise-eligible citizens can vote only if they pay an amount of money. … Many do not know, and some may not be able to find out, how much they must pay.”

The judge also called the law a “pay-to-vote system,” and ordered the state to allow those who are unable to pay to be able to register.